What a Keyword Phrase Is & Why It Helps Your SEO

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What Is a Keyword Phrase?

A keyword phrase (also known as a keyword, keyphrase, or search query) is a specific series of words you want to focus a webpage around to rank it highly for the phrase in search engines.

For example, the phrase “best coffee shops” is a keyword phrase. And it’s a keyword.

But not everybody thinks about this in the same way.

Keyword vs. Keyword Phrase

Many people believe that a keyword and a keyword phrase are different.

The thinking goes that keywords are single words like “shoes” or “restaurants.” And keyword phrases are terms with multiple words like “black running shoes” or “Chinese restaurants.”

But in the world of SEO, most experts would agree that there’s little meaningful difference between the two.

And when referring to either one of them, they simply call them keywords. That’s the standard terminology in the industry.

You can also refer to them as keyword phrases. Although that’s less common.

"black running shoes" keyword entered into Google search

That said, the term keyword phrases does convey the idea of a more targeted approach. Because it emphasizes the importance of specific, multi-word terms in modern SEO.

That means calling them “long-tail keywords” is often more accurate.

Why Are Keyword Phrases Important for SEO?

If your webpage doesn’t target keyword phrases/keywords, it likely won’t receive much organic (meaning unpaid) traffic from search engines like Google. No matter how hard you try.

When users input specific phrases into search engines, they’re served content that closely matches their queries.

By embedding these keyword phrases in your content, you can signal to search engines that your page holds the answers or solutions users are seeking. 

Assuming you write high-quality content and optimize your webpage and your larger site, those search engines will likely rank you higher in search results. And drive traffic to your site.

Moreover, the traffic that you receive through these keyword phrases is often highly specific. 

For instance, “waterproof hiking boots” draws in outdoor enthusiasts. Not just anyone interested in shoes. 

This specificity leads to traffic from users who are more likely to engage with your content, products, or services. And convert into paying customers.

How to Find Keyword Phrases for Your Website

Here are a few ways to find keyword phrases for your website:

1. Discover the Keyword Phrases You’re Already Ranking for

If your website is already ranking for some keyword phrases, you can optimize for them to maximize performance (more on this later).

You can use Google Search Console to identify keywords you’re ranking for.

Open the tool, go to the “Search results” report, and check the “Queries” tab.

By default, the report will show you keyphrases you’re already ranking highly for. (Make sure you’ve checked the “Average position” box to see your ranking position for each keyword.)

"Search results" report in Google Search Console

Now, look through the list to find keyword phrases where your site ranks in position four or higher. 

To find the page (or pages) that corresponds with a given keyword, click the keyword in the table. Then, select the “Pages” tab.

“Pages” tab in Google Search Console search results report

With the right optimizations, you could push yourself to higher rankings. And that could dramatically increase traffic.

The optimization process usually involves:

  • Making sure your keyword phrase is effectively used in the title tag (the title that appears in search results), URL slug (the last part of your URL), meta description (the brief description that may show up in search results), headers, and throughout the content of the page
  • Making sure your page is satisfying the search intent (the needs of your audience based on what they’re searching)

For example, if your keyword phrase is “best home espresso machines,” your page should comprehensively cover various espresso machines. And offer in-depth reviews and comparisons. 

This ensures that, when users click on your page, they find exactly what they’re looking for. In this case, detailed and helpful information about choosing an espresso machine for home use.

These two optimization techniques will help you improve your ranking positions for your keyword phrases.

2. See Which Keyword Phrases Your Competitors Are Ranking For

Another way to find keyword phrases is through a competitive analysis.

Your competitors are probably already targeting keyword phrases with their sites. And knowing what those queries are will save you time and effort. Because you don’t have to start the keyword research process from scratch.

To find your competitors’ keywords, use Semrush’s Organic Research tool. (Google Search Console doesn’t offer you this data.)

Open the tool, enter your competitor’s website, and click “Search.” 

"allrecipes.com" entered into the Organic Research tool search box

Then, navigate to the “Top Keywords” section. And click “View all # keywords

“Top Keywords” section highlighted in Organic Research overview dashboard

You’ll see the keyword phrases they’re targeting. As well as the keywords’ search volume (the average number of people who search for these keywords on a monthly basis) and keyword difficulty (a measure of how hard it would be to rank in the top spots).

Organic Search Positions table shows the keywords your competitor is targeting and their metrics

If your website is new and doesn’t have a lot of backlinks, it’s best to choose phrases that have low keyword difficulty.

To see these keywords, select the “KD” filter and set the keyword difficulty to “Easy.”

Now, you have a list of keyword phrases that are easier to rank for.

A list of keyword phrases with low keyword difficulty

Pick the keywords in this list that are relevant to you. Then, repeat the process with another competitor.

3. Conduct Keyword Research

Using a traditional keyword research technique will also help you find keyword phrases for your site.

This technique involves using a seed keyword (a broad keyword related to your business) to generate keyword phrase ideas.

But you need a professional keyword research tool for this. Like Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

Open the tool, enter your seed keyword, and click “Search.”

"recipes" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

You’ll see keyword phrase ideas related to your niche.

A list of keywords related to "recipes" with keyword metrics

You can also look for question-based keyword phrases. Just select the “Questions” tab.

A list of question keywords related to "recipes" with their metrics

Go through the list to review each keyword. And pick the ones you feel would be great options.

At this point, you should have enough keyword phrases identified for your site. The next step is to optimize your website for them.

We’ve already shared some advice on how to do that. But if you want to learn more, check out our full guide to keyword optimization with on-page SEO.

Monitor How You Rank for Your Keyword Phrases

Once you’ve optimized your website for SEO keywords and phrases, make sure to track your performance.

This will help you assess whether your efforts are yielding results. To track how your pages are ranking for your keyword phrases, use Semrush’s Position Tracking tool.

It shows your website’s ranking position history for your keyword phrases. 

Rankings overview table in Position Tracking tool

If you see your rankings increasing over time, it’s a good sign your optimization efforts are working. But if your rankings are dropping or stagnant, you may need to reassess your strategy.

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